A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 175 at his unfortunate family affairs and complained of his bitter loneliness, although everybody in the ward knew that he was unmarried and had no particular family troubles. It is true Klavdia Mikhailovna showed him a little more favour than the rest; she would sit on the edge of his bed and listen to the tales of his adventures, and he, unconsciously, as it were, would take her hand, and she would not withdraw it. Anger grew in Meresyev's heart, the entire ward was mad at Struchkov, for he behaved as if he wanted to prove to his wardmates that Klavdia Mikhailovna was no different from any other woman. He was gravely warned to stop this dirty game, and the ward was preparing resolutely to interfere in the matter when the affair suddenly took a totally different turn. One evening, during her spell of duty, Klavdia Mi- khailovna came into the ward not to attend to any of the patients, but just for a chat—it was for this that the pa- tients liked her particularly. The major began one of his stories and the nurse sat down by his bed. Nobody no- ticed how it happened, but suddenly she jumped up. Everybody looked round. With an angry frown and flushed cheeks, the nurse glared at Struchkov—who looked ashamed and even frightened—and said: "Comrade Major, if you were not a patient and I a nurse, I'd slap your face!" "Oh, Klavdia Mikhailovna, I give you my word I didn't mean to.... And besides, what is there in it?..." "Oh! What is there in it?" She looked at him now not with anger, but with contempt. "Very well. There's no- thing more to be said. Do you hear? And now I ask you, in front of your comrades, never to speak to me again except when you need medical attention. Good night, comrades!" And she left the ward with a step unusually heavy for her, evidently trying hard to appear calm. For a moment silence reigned in the ward. Then Alexei's vicious, triumphant laugh was heard, and ev- erybody pounced upon the major: "So you got what was coming to you!" Gloatingly, Meresyev asked with mock politeness: "Do you want me to spit in your face now or later?'"